Guo forced to face the music publisher

Tuesday, April 7th, 2009

A popular Canadian sheet music website has been shut down due to legal concerns about European copyright violations.

The International Music Score Library Project (IMSLP) was a non-commercial website with an online database of public domain musical scores.

The IMSLP was launched last February as the pet project of Xiao-Guang Guo, a Canadian music student. By the time the site was taken offline, it featured over 15,000 musical scores by over 1,000 artists.

Michael Geist, Canada Research Chair of Internet and e-commerce law at the University of Ottawa, said the site’s shutdown was significant for Canada.

“The case " even the [cease-and-desist] letter and the takedown of the site " are very important for the ongoing viability of the public domain in Canada.”

An Austrian music publisher, Universal Edition, sent two cease-and-desist letters to Guo regarding claimed copyright violations. Universal Edition is the publisher of some of musical scores hosted by the IMSLP.

The letters claimed the IMSLP was involved in a breach of European copyright laws on some of its posted works.

In Europe, some of the musical scores had not yet entered the public domain.

The first letter listed 40 contested musical scores for which the copyright had not run out in Europe and asked for their removal.

Aird & Berlis, the law firm retained by Universal Edition, demanded in a second letter that the future uploading of contested works be prevented by means of Internet filtering.

In response to the cease-and-desist letters, the IMSLP was shut down on Oct. 19.

Guo explained why he shut down the website.

“I have decided to close the site rather than obey their [request] because once I implicitly agree that they are just in their demands " which they are certainly not in my opinion " it is game over for IMSLP, and possibly even other sites.”

Western Law professor Margaret Ann Wilkinson questioned the viability of Universal Edition’s actions and whether European copyright laws would be upheld in Canada.

“There is a disparity in copyright protection between Canada and Europe,” Wilkinson said. European copyrights extend to 70 years past the author’s death, as compared to 50 years in Canada.

“The challenge is that the internet is an international medium, and law is national.”

Ken Clark, a lawyer with Aird & Berlis, disagreed. According to recent legal decisions, in some circumstances, foreign judgments are enforceable in Canada.

As for the future of the IMSLP, it is unclear when the site will start up again.

“I am working on a continuation of IMSLP [but] I can’t disclose the details,” Guo said.

“But no, IMSLP is not dead, at least not yet.”

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